Shepard, Benjamin Heim. “Illuminations on Market Street: (a story about sex and estrangement, AIDS and loss, and other preoccupations in San Francisco)”, ibidem Press 2019.
San Francisco, the Early 1990s
Cab is having a losing streak. He has been dumped again. Set in San Francisco in the late 1990s, we meet Cab who moved to Haight-Ashbury right after college. It is the middle of a recession and before the dot-com boom a time when AIDS is an immediate and untreatable reality. He works in a housing program for people with HIV/AIDS at a time when the entire city is reeling and his clients are dying. Cab listens to their every word and begins drafting a narrative of every person with whom he’s slept including those who dropped him, those he adored, and those he let go without even thinking. He wants to reassess what he has left behind from the South of his childhood that was made up of dyslexia and infatuations, football and joy, divorce and sex panics. In between girlfriends, acting up, attempts at romance, and trying to find his place in the greater San Francisco narrative, Cab realizes that he is looking for something as he traces the interconnecting stories of the people he’s meeting, sleeping, and drinking with just as everyone tries to find a space in the city. As treatments emerge and the economy changes, a new story takes shape in Cab’s life and the city.
The novel looks at the lines between fiction and non-fiction, activism, loss, AIDS and the impacts of HIV on sex and culture. This is a story about living and fighting in the face of insurmountable challenges and it is “deeply moving, vivid, funny, tender, sexy, rough-around-the-edges memory novel of the early-nineties San Francisco when AIDS was claiming lives but also when sexual, cultural, and political walls were falling and everything seemed possible.” Here is a rare account of that time and place from a straight man who opened his mind and heart to everyone around him―men and women, cis and trans, gay and straight, sick and healthy―and came away changed. Shepard shares that transformation with us here, in a novel filled with love, lust, friendship, romance, books, ideas, dancing, drugs, sex, death, and lots of music. It is a fantastic and powerful read.